Sunday, September 25, 2016

Libraries Shouldn't Be Hidden

I received a copy of FDR's Funeral Train: A Betrayed Widow, a Soviet Spy, and a Presidency in the Balance in the mail yesterday, wanting to reread it after having read The Hidden White House: Harry Truman and the Reconstruction of America's Most Famous Residence, author Robert Klara's latest.

I ordered it from Better World Books from Mishawaka, Indiana, through When it finally came after two weeks, I was going to write to them to complain because I thought I had ordered a paperback copy. But in reading time, and having read a few books after I had ordered it, I forgot what copy I had ordered.

It turns out that Better World Books had listed this as a Former Library Book, and I think I ordered this one because it was the cheapest. But looking at this former library copy, while I am happy to have it to read again, I'm also disappointed. For while this library, whichever one it was, left its Dewey Decimal call number at the bottom of the spine, it completely blacked out its name on the title page under the Palgrave Macmillan name with very heavy permanent black marker. The barcode at the top of the back cover was marked up the same way. All that remains as proof that this came from a library besides the Dewey Decimal number is a stamped date of Mar 22 2010 at the bottom of the back flyleaf, the date the library acquired this book, with $27.00 beneath that. True, all this library thought about at the time was bring this book into its collections. It wasn't thinking about bibliophiles who might receive this book in the future, like me.

This library doesn't necessarily have to advertise. It belongs to a city, or a town, and therefore is only accountable to that place. But leaving clear where the book came from when it discarded it and sent it away would have been free advertising for bibliophiles. I wanted to know where this book came from. Perhaps I would have looked for the library's website and visited it. I would live in libraries if I could, and so this is my way of knowing other libraries outside of where I live. The black marker is so thick that I can't make out any possible letters. It could be considered a lost opportunity for this library, or library system, or it could be that they just want to be left alone. They don't want any outsiders to notice them. If so, I wish they didn't have that attitude. I would have been deferential.

Or it could be some new policy of Better World Books to black out library and town names from former library books. But then, what good would that do them? I would think that any bookseller as substantial as Better World Books would want buyers to see that their books come from so many different places. No, I'm chalking this one up to the library.

While I'm sticking to my local library's own books for the foreseeable future, I hope that the next former library book I buy is more open to me. In turn, I will be more open to it.

LATE SUNDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE (5:47 p.m.): I just found this e-mail in my inbox, sent late this morning:


Thank you for your email. We work with many libraries who send their overstocked
books or old editions for us to sell. The libraries then select a local charity or
one of our literacy partners (Books for Africa, Room to Read, and The National
Center for Family Literacy) to receive a portion of the proceeds, in addition to
earning funds for their own programs. Your book came from one of those libraries. We
do ask that these libraries not make any changes to the book, apart from something
like a discard stamp, unfortunately, not all libraries follow these guidelines. I
can assure you that this is not a new policy of ours. Thanks for the support!



It's heartening to know that charities benefit from these books, and good to know that Better World Books is not responsible for this. They're as open as I always thought they were.

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